May 6, 2016

BROMER | Notes on a Communication Breakdown

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I became unstuck last Wednesday in the shadow of Franny’s food truck. I knew something was off as soon as the cashier handed me my order. We had smoked a bit of pot earlier, but I wasn’t hungry. My head felt like a half-screwed light bulb, synapses firing in new and altogether unfamiliar directions, sending tingles down the nerves in my arms. Gripping the delicately prepared Vietnamese sandwich, I approached my friends, who were caught up in a discussion of who had, and who hadn’t, figured out where they’d be after graduation. I distinctly remember feeling at that moment that if I loosened my grip on my sandwich, I’d disappear.

I wasn’t really gripped by fear, though, until I tried to speak. Someone asked what I had ordered. I thought I had managed to sputter out the words “Banh Mi” — it sounded more like I had said “Bone me.” It felt as if I was choking. Moments later, barely holding it together, I bolted towards home, fingers tightly locked around my bread-bound connection to reality.

My thoughts felt absurd, foreign, invasive, like they’d been packaged and placed out for me to find. A line from Parquet Courts’ “Content Nausea” popped into my head: “And do my thoughts belong to me? / Or just some slogan I ingested to save time?” For some reason, in my semi-conscious state I mouthed those lines over and over again, hoping I’d make it to Gannett without passing out. The rest of the day is a blur of panic, nausea and frantic symptom-Googling, which I couldn’t have handled without the good humored support of my partner in crime and go-to existential breakdown handler Mary Jarvis ’16 (whom I believed to be, at one point, a literal fucking hallucination).

What I had experienced, I think, was what a psychiatrist would call (okay, did call) depersonalization: a state wherein one’s thoughts seem unreal and in which one loses all sense of personal identity. If you haven’t experienced this, I can definitively say that it is the least pleasant thing that has ever happened to me. In hindsight, the event feels like a feverish dream. I’m myself viscerally shaken by the thought of slipping back into that state. To so profoundly question one’s own connection to the world is harrowing and, honestly, absolutely horrible. On the other hand, there was also a positive outcome: All the craziness got me thinking about how important it is to find meaning in communication as a means of not only building connection with others, but also as a means of self-actualization. And I realized how profoundly I’ve been shaped by all the communicating I’ve done as a result of the Sun.

As James Rainis ’14 thoughtfully pointed out in his final Arts Column, no one reads the Arts section. At least, it often feels that way. Being a columnist can feel like standing on a stage in a nearly empty auditorium, yelling opinions on topics you barely grasp to a half-asleep audience. Worse still, what little semblance of authority one gains from having his picture and words printed in the least visible section of a college newspaper can be quickly undermined when you start to feel like an impostor. I often wonder whether I have been brave enough to use my soapbox to write truthfully and to address issues of substance, or whether my writing has been a self-serving and ultimately futile exercise — the printed equivalent of muttering into the void. I haven’t ruled out the latter. But I can definitively say that, even if I never stop feeling like a pretender, I’ve had a hell of a time playing writer for the last four years.

I came to the Arts section as a freshman, following in the footsteps of my siblings. My oldest sister, Logan, had been an Arts Editor, and my middle sister, Willi, had been a News Editor — so of course I wanted to one-up them. But from the very beginning, it was a difficult, humbling grind. Despite the careful mentorship of the brilliant Zach Zahos ’15 and Daveen Koh ’14, I was pretty much winging it at all times — and not particularly well. My co-editor Arielle Cruz ’15 and I spent countless nights in the Sun’s office, taking too long to put out our pages and covering up for gaps in content with bizarre space-fillers (see: when we included a photo of Travis Apgar with the caption “I love Thanksgiving,” or when, in the Arts Around Ithaca section, we included an Ithaca High School dance). I will always be friends with Arielle for the same reason veterans of foreign wars stick together: We’ve seen (and did) some screwed up shit, but, damnit, we survived.

In the wake of my Arts editorship, getting a column felt like the Arts section equivalent of a pension. And sure, I’ve coasted now and then. There have been listicles; there have been articles written at the last minute (pretty much all of them). But I’ve also been able to write about topics that I truly care about. To name a few: My hatred for music festivals, my ambivalence about Slope Media, my dad, “Too Many Cooks,” Flying Lotus, obscure jazz, Bob Dylan, Gamergate (remember that?) and improv comedy. In the process, I’ve pissed a few people off and racked up a few self-promotional Facebook likes.

I hope that, at some point or another, my writing has struck a chord — arts, ha — with readers besides my parents in some way. But, to me, the process of creating and daring to share my writing is the most meaningful aspect of my work at the Sun. To yank thoughts out of my personal, solipsistic experience and throw them, however unprepared, into the world has been absolutely essential to my becoming a thoughtful and well-rounded person.

Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to have incredibly talented and unbelievably generous peers help out along the way.  Thanks to Gina Cargas ’14 and James Rainis for your unwavering commitment to being cooler than me. And thanks to Zach Zahos for being equally uncool (but also, like, infinitely better at this whole writing thing. Plus, you have a sick Criterion Collection collection). Thanks, too, to all the editors who succeeded me and blew me out of the water in every way: Sean Doolittle ’16, Kaitlyn Tiffany ’15, Jael Goldfine ’17, Mike Sosnick ’16 and now, Troy Sherman ’18 and Shay Collins ’18. Also, Jack Jones ’18: You had me at hello. Alright, scram, y’all. It’s over. Get outta here. Don’t make me get the shovel.